The Battle for Vanessa

A custody battle spanning thousands of miles has an Orange County woman fighting to adopt a 2-year-old girl.

Stacey Doss, 45, has been raising Vanessa since birth. She's a curious, vivacious toddler with brown, curly hair and brown eyes.

Doss, who is single, started the adoption process in June 2008 after Vanessa's birth in Dayton, Ohio. And by all accounts, it was a standard open adoption.

"Vanessa's birth mother was eight months pregnant when she contacted me," said Doss. "When we got on the phone together, every thing just clicked."

The birth mother called Doss the day she gave birth. Doss immediately caught the next plane to Ohio and took guardianship of the infant girl at the hospital. The father, she was told, wasn't in the picture.

"The birth mother said she got pregnant after a one-night stand," said Doss. "After Vanessa was born, she also signed a document, under penalty of perjury stating she didn't know who the birth father was."

But the birth mother wasn't telling the truth. Several days after taking custody of Vanessa, Doss received shocking news.

"I didn't know anything at the time, but I learned later that the birth father showed up at the hospital," said Doss. "I had no idea that he was in fact the birth father until DNA tests came back positive four months later."

By that time, mother and daughter were living in Orange County. The DNA test also marked the beginning of a long, strenuous and expensive legal battle for Vanessa.

The birth father, Benjamin Mills, Jr., wants custody of his daughter.

"Mr. Mills recognizes how emotional this case has become," said his attorney, Elizabeth Gorman, who works for a non-profit law firm called Legal Aid of Western Ohio.

Mills said the birth mother, his girlfriend at the time, lied to him about her pregnancy. He thought she was going to keep the baby and he did not know of her plans to put Vanessa up for adoption.

"We are all in a bad spot," said Doss. "But I think he's angry at the birth mother for lying to him."

Doss said she wanted Vanessa to meet her father. She even paid for his plane trip to fly him from Ohio to Southern California in June 2009.

Doss said within hours of the first meeting, she felt it wasn't going to work: "Initially I thought he would be a responsible guy. But I learned that's not the case."

Court documents show Mills has served time in prison for domestic violence convictions. One of the incidents involved Vanessa's birth mother. The couple also has two other children, both daughters.

"I'm willing to let Vanessa have an open relationship with her biological sisters," said Doss. "I'm never going to stand in the way of where she comes from."

Now, a half of dozen attorneys, social workers and judges in two states will decide the fate of Vanessa.

"It's not about me. It's not about the birth father. It's about Vanessa, and they must think about what's right for Vanessa," said Doss.

"It's up to the court to take a look at the evidence and come up with what is in the best interest of his daughter. Mr. Mills and his family are confident the judges will be guided by the law," said Gorman.

Until a decision is made about custody, Doss said there's a good chance she could lose Vanessa to the foster care system in Ohio.

"Vanessa will never survive in that environment," said Doss. "She will never make it."

The next court hearing takes place in Orange County on July 2. But whatever the outcome, Doss says, she will not stop fighting for Vanessa. She's even created a website to help spread the word about her legal battle.

"As a mother, an instinct comes out you. It's your job to keep your child out of harm's way," said Doss. "I will do whatever I have to do."

Editor's Note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that Stacey Doss adopted Vanessa. That adoption has yet to be finalized.

Contact Us